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The Canon Pixma MP970 is the 2007 refresh of last year's Pixma MP960. We were looking forward to a top-notch photo-oriented photo multifunction, as we've come to expect stellar quality from Canon, and we loved last year's version. Unfortunately, we were surprised to find slower task speeds and print quality that doesn't meet Canon's usual standards. On the plus side, at $300, it's $100 less than the MP960 and it includes Ethernet networking standard (otherwise, it offers a very similar feature set). Aside from the performance and quality issues, we'd like to see Canon take some steps to improve the onboard image editing options and include support for USB hard drives and flash drives via the front-mounted USB host port; many other manufacturers have done so and we wonder why Canon hasn't. Overall, we feel let down by the Pixma MP960. If you don't need network-support, we suggest you go with the Pixma MP960, if you can spare the extra $100. And for a networked, photo-oriented multifunction, we recommend the HP Photosmart C6180, though it's a bit slower than the MP970.
The Canon Pixma MP970 is a monster of a printer, so make sure you have enough desk space for it. It measures 18.5 inches wide, 15.6 inches deep, and 8.4 inches tall, and weighs just over 26 pounds. The body is silver with black highlights. Hidden behind a door are two memory card slots, and a PictBridge USB port resides beneath the slots.
The control panel is similar to last year's model, the Pixma MP960, with some minor differences. It's embedded in the scanner lid, hidden under a fold-up panel. Embedded on the underside of the panel is a large, 3.5-inch LCD. Like the MP960, the MP970 has a very simple control panel, due in part to the fact that most of the functionality is accessed via the onscreen menu. The menu options are arranged in a circle that revolves on the screen as you turn the scroll wheel on the control panel. The wheel gives a tactile response as it turns, which we liked. Arranged in a ring around the wheel are four direction keys that you can use instead of the wheel, and an OK wheel resides in the center of the wheel. Other control panel buttons include a feed switch, a Home key (to take you back to the top menu), a Navi button that serves as a shortcut to tutorials on advanced features, two start buttons (color and black), and two soft keys that change function by menu.
The MP970 offers two paper input sources: a rear input and a cassette. Both hold up to 150 sheets of plain paper. Canon recommends using the rear input for photo paper and some other specialty media, as these papers can jam when forced around a roller, as media coming from the cassette must do. The printer's front panel folds out to serve as the output tray.
Canon loaded up the MP970 with a seven-ink print system with individual ink cartridges. The pigment-based black ink is ideal for text prints, while the six dye-based inks (including a dye-based black, and photo magenta and photo cyan) make for better photo prints. The pigment-based black ink tank costs $16.25 to replace, while the dye-based tanks cost $14.25 apiece. Canon estimates per-page costs as follows: 3 cents for a black-and-white document, 5 cents for a full-color document, and 29 cents for a 4x6 borderless photo. These costs are in line with the competitions'.
The Pixma MP970 serves up a boatload of features that will keep photocentric home users happy. It's network-ready with an Ethernet port in the rear, making it a great choice for multiuser environments (the MP960 is not network-ready). It also has a built-in duplexer for automatic double-sided prints. The memory card slots, PictBridge port, and IrDA interface make it easy to print images from digital cameras, camera phones, smartphones, and memory cards--all without using your PC. It prints, scans, copies, and prints; there's no fax functionality, but that's normal for photo-oriented home multifunctions.
The copy options are standard on the MP970: you can resize between 25 percent and 400 percent, using fit-to-page, preset ratios, or custom values in 1 percent increments. Special copy offerings include two-sided copy (from either one- or two-sided originals), borderless copy, 2-on-1 and 4-on-1 copy, image repeat, frame erase (for when the original is smaller than the target paper), trimming (copying just a selected area of the original), and masking (blocking out areas of the original).
Scan options include Save to PC, Attach to e-mail, Open in an application, and Scan to PDF. If you choose Save to PC, the files are saved to a folder created in My Pictures called MP Navigator EX (in a sub-subfolder labeled with the date). You can use the MP Navigator EX utility to change the default location, or you can scan from the program (versus initiating the scan using the control panel) and choose a different location. Scans can be saved as TIFF, JPEG, bitmap, or PDF files. Not only can you scan documents and photos with the MP970, but you can also scan 35mm negatives and slides--six at a time for negatives and four at a time for slides (you can also make prints from slides and negatives). The negative and slide holders are hidden behind the platen protector on the underside of the scanner lid. On the MP960, you could only store one of the two holders there, so you essentially had to decide which one you were willing to misplace or lose. Happily, Canon solved this issue on the MP970: the two guides snap together for storage.
When printing from a memory card, you can do a Print All (all or just those within a date range) or step through the contents of your card to pick particular shots. When viewing the photos, you can see them in the normal view, thumbnails, full screen, or enlarged, or you can start a slide show of your photos. Alternatively, you can print a scannable photo index that lets you bubble in the number of copies of each photo, specify paper type and size, and then scan in the sheet to print photos. If you want to do this, make sure you choose the Photo Index Sheet option that lives in the top-level menu. If you delve into the memory card menu, you'll find another option called Photo Index Print, but that just prints thumbnails with file name, image number, and date--it's not scannable. Canon needs to rename one of these options so it's not so confusing. Aside from printing standard 4x6, 5x7, and 8x10 photos, the MP970 also offers various multi-image layouts and sticker prints.
Image enhancement options are fairly standard, though we found fewer options than we expected from a high-end photo multifunction. The first choice you have to make is whether you want to make manual adjustments to the photo or let the machine make auto adjustments via Auto Image Fix. If you go the manual route, it's still not particularly manual. You can pick and choose among several adjustments--red-eye correction, vivid photo, photo optimizer pro, noise reduction, face brightener, image optimizer--but your choices are binary: on and off. You can tweak brightness, contrast, and color hue a bit and you can apply sepia or illustration effects. While these are standard features for Canon printers, we'd like to see more advanced features, particularly on such an expensive model.
While you can print from PictBridge USB devices, we'd like to see Canon support USB hard drives and flash drives. Some models, such as the Kodak EasyShare 5500, allow you to not only print from storage devices, but also scan to them and memory cards, as well.
The results of the CNET Labs' performance tests were a bit surprising to us. Generally, when a product is refreshed year after year, we expect to see speed and quality improvements. At the very least, the product should show comparable speed and quality. Unfortunately for the Pixma MP970, it was slower than the MP960 across the board. It scored 7.85 pages per minute (ppm) for text prints, a full 1.5ppm slower than the MP960, which scored 9.42ppm. The MP970 scored 2.07ppm when printing color graphics--just a hair slower than the MP960, but half a page slower than the Kodak EasyShare 5500 and the HP Photosmart C6180. When printing 4x6 photos, the MP970 scored 1.61ppm, again, behind its predecessor. It scored 7.20ppm when scanning grayscale pages, the second slowest of the bunch, and 6.36ppm with color scans.
|Color scan||Grayscale scan||4x6 photo||Color graphics||Text|
The scan quality is improved over that of the MP960, but still leaves plenty of room for improvement. The grayscale scans showed good pattern reproduction and sharp details, but it was a bit washed out, as if scanned through a filter. The color scan was perfect, except that the entire white background had a pale blue cast to it. Again, we were disappointed. Overall, we preferred the quality of the Pixma MP960 or the HP Photosmart C6180.
|Color scan||Grayscale scan||Photo||Graphics||Text|